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Yoga: Origins, History and Evolution!

By Sarah, published on 11/10/2017 Blog > Health and Fitness > Yoga > Discover the History of Yoga

Yoga is an age-old practice that has evolved over the centuries.

Today, when we talk about yoga, we think of a kind of gentle gymnastics, in which you move your body in a string of easy and more difficult movements.

But did you know that this has not always been the case?

Going back to the origin of yoga together, we will find that there are several types of yoga, not always practised in the same way…

To learn more about yoga, read our article.

The Origins of Yoga

Historians and specialists in Indian culture find it very difficult to precisely locate the origins of yoga.

Tracing the roots of yoga and meditation in Indian culture. A statue representing a yogi in full meditation session. Source: Pixabay

The reason why the origins of yoga are not clear… ancestral texts are extremely difficult to decipher!

Even when it is actually possible to find writings, it’s still difficult. This is because, according to experts, the Vedic culture (at the origin of everything) were supporters of oral transmission.

That said, research indicates that the first forms of yoga would have emerged between 10,000 and 5,000 BC. J.-C. Figurines found on ancient sites resembled the position of yogis meditating.

The purpose of yoga at that time was to be able to impose power on the gods by doing regular exercises that were very hard for the body.

Over time, this discipline has evolved. This is largely due to a writer (who could in fact be a line of writers): Patañjali and his Yoga Sutra, directly responsible for the great history of yoga!

Composed of 195 aphoras (short sutras or phrases that are easily memorised) and 1161 words in all, divided into 4 paragraphs. Each part aims to define what yoga is and how to practise it to attain liberation (the ultimate goal of the discipline).

  • The first section is called Samādhi pāda (chapter on concentration).

The author explains how to attain the state of unity by samadhi (completion or ecstasy in Sanskrit).

  • The second section is called Sādhana pāda (chapter on the practice).

There are two forms of yoga: Ashtanga Yoga (based on 8 members instituting a healthy and beneficial philosophy of life for oneself and others) and Kriyā Yoga (the yoga of action).

  • The third section is called Vibhūti pāda (chapter on the powers).

It refers precisely to the techniques that lead to a higher state of consciousness.

  • The fourth and final section is Kaivalya pāda (chapter on liberation).

She closes the text by returning to the ultimate goal of yoga.

Previously, the yogis spoke of isolation and loneliness. Today we talk about the liberation and harmony of our being with our surrounding environment.

It is this text that governs all contemporary strands of yoga, as described in the Yoga Sutra. Either:

  • The four traditional approaches: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga (these three disciplines form the trimarga or the path to awakening) and Rāja Yoga.
  • The methods of Kriyā Yoga: Tantra Yoga, Mantra Yoga and Hatha Yoga.

Each has its own practices and exercises.

Past and present: How is Yoga Practiced in the world?

After dwelling on the origins, let’s learn about the evolution of yoga through the ages!

Let’s return then to its beginnings, some millennia before the year 0. We are now in the Antiquity.

The first texts that mention the practice of a form of meditation including precise poses and the recital of a kind of incantation come from the Vedic civilisation. This is what gave rise to Brahmanism, a formalised ritual system of this ancient culture.

This appears towards the 10th century BC. AD

The religious and spiritual history of Yoga. Om (or aum) is a Sanskrit syllable representing the primordial sound. The one by which the Universe was created. Source: Visual hunt

Around the 4th century BC, the Yoga Sutra was written.

Thus, following these rules, different orders of yogis emerged (including Vishnouite and Shivaite yogis), hence linking this practice to religious forms of Hindu culture (but not totally).

From the 2nd century AD. J.-C. the practice spread across the world. This is primarily due to the Arabs, Greeks, and Persians. But also due to a famous Italian explorer: Marco Polo.

Precise translations and descriptions of these Hindu rites are then published in the West.

Subsequently, towards the 16th century, everything starts to accelerate. The different cultural and commercial exchanges between peoples encouraged the discovery of new practices, including yoga.

As a result, various Western texts cite yoga between the 16th and the 18th century.

As the 19th century arrived and technologies advanced, it became increasingly easy to travel and communicate. Thus, great yogis took advantage of it to explain to the whole world the true nature of yoga.

Among the important names, we think of:

  • Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902): he held numerous lectures on yoga;
  • Sri Krishnamacharia (1888-1989): he founded a yoga school in India;
  • K.V. Desikachar (son of Sri Krishnamacharia): he strove to make the practice known throughout the world;
  • Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar (1918-2014): founder of Yoga Iyengar;
  • Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009): teacher of Yoga Ashtanga.

Practise Yoga for mental and physical health benefits. Integral Yoga: an example of a modern form of yoga developed by Sri Aurobindo in the early 20th century. Source: Visual hunt

In the late 19th century, yoga masters began to travel to the West, sparking interest and new followers.

During this period, a large number of federations and associations were created throughout the world.

Among these new followers was, of course, Britain. During the mid-twentieth century the art form became popularised, appealing to the British people due to its emphasis on both physical and spiritual wellbeing.

By the end of the twentieth century it had become a mainstream activity and a huge commercialised business.

In Britain, the discipline is essentially known in its Hatha Yoga form. But there are many others. Learn about all this philosophy at a yoga class in London or across the country…

Discovering Different Forms of Yoga

Let us turn to the traditional and modern forms of yoga.

You will find that there are many types, each with its own objectives, practices and exercises.

Hatha Yoga

In the West, Hatha Yoga is undoubtedly the most widespread form of this discipline.

It consists of linking and maintaining poses, while promoting breathing and concentration. Not to mention relaxation, which is an important part of the exercise.

Its goal is to work your flexibility, but also to have better stress management or improve the quality of your sleep.

It’s a pretty comprehensive variety.

Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini Yoga allows you to harmonise your energy centres.

To achieve this, it focuses on practising yoga poses accompanied by breathing exercises, meditation and relaxation.

The idea is to offer you a better physical and mental balance while strengthening your immune system and letting go of daily stress.

Iyengar Yoga

The Yoga Iyengar (named after its inventor: BKS Iyengar) was created a short time ago.

Its principle is to offer a gentle approach to the exercise by allowing you to help yourself with equipment.

Designed primarily for beginners, it also brings many physical and spiritual benefits.

Prenatal Yoga

As the name suggests, prenatal yoga is for pregnant women who want the right aids to deal with their pregnancy and childbirth.

Thus, yoga postures are adapted to the changing body. Each yoga session offers different exercises that will help you to:

  • Relax and avoid mood swings;
  • Maintain your flexibility (or gradually improve it);
  • Be in touch with your child and your changing body;
  • Be calm on the delivery day through inspirational/expiratory exercises that will help you on D day;
  • Not to mention avoiding the bodily pains that you experience during this period.

Yoga keeps you and your baby healthy. Prenatal Yoga is a popular practice for women who want to prepare for childbirth. Source: Pixabay

Be careful though: this yoga class requires the help of a professional. It is not advisable to practice it at home, if you are not already an expert.

Yoga Nidra

Yoga Nidra is a rather unusual practice of yoga since you do not string together movements.

In fact, you lie down and you enter a state close to sleep (the same as sophrology).

By taking a slow, deep breath, you relax and put aside all negative feelings.

If you have problems sleeping or if you have trouble managing your emotions, this is the type of Yoga for you!

Raja Yoga

Raja Yoga is also called Ashtanga Yoga. It is based on 8 members who are spiritual precepts to achieve the desired state of unity.

Considered the most comprehensive form, it draws from all types of yoga!

Vinyasa Yoga

Let’s finish our selection with Vinyasa Yoga, which draws heavily on Astanga Yoga.

Yet, while the second consists of always performing the same series of movements, Vinyasa Yoga is much freer.

Very energetic, you follow your yogi master who links poses one after the other, in a fluid and rhythmic way.

Therefore, you need to be a decent athlete to be able to have a go at it.

In any case, it allows you to sculpt your body without building it up (unlike bodybuilding) while eliminating any superfluous fat that has accumulated.

Obviously, there are many others that we invite you to discover at your own pace.

To start practising today, find associations for yoga near me.

What do I do if there are no classes for yoga near me? There are also individual teachers or groups you can join.

In any case, if you feel overwhelmed by stress and if it affects your body, give yourself a break in life. You will soon see the benefits.

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